The UFC is firming up their schedule for the second half of 2023. As of this week, Dana White has announced that the world’s largest MMA promotion now has PPV events scheduled for Salt Lake City, Boston, Sydney, and Abu Dhabi—with a high likelihood of a PPV event planned for New York in November, before returning to Vegas for their final PPV of the year in December.
Aside from the ‘where’s and the ‘when’s, that also means giving fans a chance to figure out just what title fights they might expect for the rest of year. We’ve got Amanda Nunes defending in June, Alexander Volkanovski & Brandon Moreno defending in July, with reports that Aljamain Sterling and Weili Zhang have been booked for August. The tease has been that Islam Makhachev will return in October, and that the UFC is targeting Jon Jones for MSG in November.
Israel Adesanya’s the logical choice for UFC 293, but who can he fight?
With a return Down Under already seemingly set in stone, it feels as though the UFC has painted themselves and—more importantly—their fighters into a bit of a corner. With Alexander Volkanovski already booked, Israel Adesanya is the clear and obvious choice for their September headliner in Sydney Australia.
The ‘Last Stylebender’ won back his title just last month at UFC 287, knocking out longtime rival Alex Pereira in the rematch of their 2022 battle. A September booking would make five months between fights. More than enough time to prep for another title defense. Only trouble is, the current, obvious middleweight top contender’s bout between Robert Whittaker and Dricus du Plessis is booked for July 8th on the UFC 290 PPV card headlined by Volkanovski vs. Rodriguez.
That means whoever comes out of that fight will have just two months to recover from any injuries and prepare to face the champ. It also means that, should that be too short a turnaround, the UFC’s other relevant title holder likely wouldn’t be ready to go either. Not unless someone wants to do the UFC a big favor and try to speed-run one of the most important fights of their career. We saw how that worked out for Gilbert Burns.
Who else could fight Adesanya for UFC gold?
Even if the UFC wanted to get a little wild and creative here they’d find themselves hard pressed to do so. Just about every single top-10 middleweight is currently already booked with a bout. The ones that aren’t (Derek Brunson, Roman Dolidze, and Jack Hermansson) are all coming off losses. Marvin Vettori is set to fight Jared Cannonier in June, Paulo Costa is set to fight Ikram Aliskerov in late July, even Sean Strickland has a fight coming up with Abusupiyan Magomedov.
The other clearest options the UFC had, rematches for Adesanya against Alex Pereira or Jan Blachowicz, just got booked to take on one another in late July as well. The UFC has put themselves in a position where they have to hope and pray that the winner of Whittaker vs. du Plessis comes out of their bout 100% healthy and ready to go again, otherwise they might just have to look at another headliner in another division altogether.
Colby Covington vs. Leon Edwards in Australia?
If the rest of the UFC schedule stays as advertised, it doesn’t appear the promotion will be headed back to the UK for another Leon Edwards title fight on home soil. Sure Covington’s last trip to Sydney wasn’t exactly a memory he’s likely interested in revisiting. But his other trip to Asia/Oceania was a resounding success, resulting in a unanimous decision over Dong Hyun Kim in 2017. It may just be that Edwards vs. Covington is the biggest fight the UFC can put together.
The only other champions without a title fight clearly booked or planned are Jamahal Hill and Alexa Grasso. A rematch between Grasso and Shevchenko seems like it should be on the immediate horizon at some point, with their last bout going down in March. Not long after winning the belt, Grasso even said that she wanted to rematch ‘Bullet’ in her first title defense in September. If the UFC’s interested in that plan, then the Sydney card would be the date.
However, given that Shevchenko hasn’t headlined a card in any of her last six title defenses, it’s pretty hard to imagine that Grasso now holding the belt would convince the UFC to break that streak. Even if Grasso vs. Shevchenko 2 made it on to UFC 293, it would almost certainly have to come with another title fight booked in the main event slot.
As for Hill, he currently doesn’t even have one top contender ready to fight him, let alone a card to fight him on. Hill had hoped to return to action in August at UFC 292. But the UFC already has two title fights for that card, and the clear top contender, Jiri Prochazka, has said he won’t be ready to return by that date as he continues rehabbing his injured shoulder.
Would the UFC be interested in sticking Magomed Ankalaev back in a title fight after the mess his Blachowicz bout created? More likely the winner of Blachowicz vs. Pereira would be in line for gold, but with that bout planned for UFC 291, getting the winner ready for UFC 293 is a bigger ask than just booking the Whittaker/du Plessis winner.
All said and done, the UFC has a PPV card set to go on September 10th in Sydney, Australia. Just who they’ll find to headline it is anyone’s guess right now.
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